Over the last one year or so, there has been a lot of discussion in media about the political vacuum witnessed in Tamil Nadu after the demise of its Late Chief Minister J Jayalalitha. On Tuesday, this vacuum extended further as a stalwart leader of the state who was a towering leader of Dravidian politics, Muthuvel Karunanidhi (94) passed away. He perhaps was the last leader who was closely associated with the Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu witnessed just after independence.
Karunanidhi was born in Thirrukuvalai village in what is now eastern Tamil Nadu on June 3, 1924. He left school early and began working as a screenwriter in the Tamil film industry. There he honed skills for promoting the Dravidian movement against the high castes that later contributed to his rise as a popular politician.
Karunanidhi became involved in politics in his early teens, beginning with public protests against the use of Hindi in the region. He formed organisations for local youths and students and started a newspaper that eventually became the Murasoli, the DMK’s official newspaper. He became a close associate of DMK founder Anndurai and first received broader notice in Tamil politics when he led a 1953 protest in a town where its Tamil name had been replaced with one honouring an industrialist from northern India with a Hindi name.
Karunanidhi, running as an independent candidate, was first elected to the legislative assembly of the erstwhile Madras state (the name for Tamil Nadu until 1968) in 1957. Beginning with the 1962 assembly polls (which included the DMK), he was continually re-elected to that body. He became the party’s treasurer in 1961 and deputy leader of the opposition when the party entered the state assembly the following year. After the DMK won the 1967 assembly elections (with Karunanidhi soundly defeating his Congress Party), he formed the government and Annadurai became chief minister. Karunanidhi was named the minister for PWD. Annadurai died in early 1969 and Karunanidhi succeeded him as the head of DMK and as chief minister. His first tenure lasted only until January 1971, but another DMK victory in assembly elections later that year returned him to the chief minister’s office. In 1972, however, a new party, All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, (AIADMK), split from the DMK. Thereafter, the two parties became bitter rivals and traded terms heading the state government. Both the DMK and the AIADMK used those tenures in power to settle scores with each other.
In 1996, a Karunanidhi-led DMK government filed several charges of corruption against J Jayalalitha leader of the AIADMK, who then spent a short time in jail. In 2001, after the AIADMK had returned to power following assembly elections that year, Karunanidhi was arrested and briefly detained on corruption charges related to highway construction projects. The case was later dismissed. In 2006, at the age of 82, Karunanidhi became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the fifth time, after a DMK-Congress alliance had secured a majority of seats in the assembly
Tamil Nadu now will miss the fiery speeches of Karunanidhi and his passion for the causes he fought for. DMK is now preparing to look towards M K Stalin to continue the legacy of Karunanidhi. But there have been some disputes over succession in the party. Will the DMK even be the same again or will it be a party which will miss its great leader and suffer because of his absence? Only time will tell the answers to these questions.